By Vishnu Mahesh Sharma
Major Spoiler Ahead...
“How much part ‘lust’ is playing behind wonders or blunders?”.
I feel the more satisfactorily a segment of Lust Universe answers this question the better it works for me. Thus, my reading of all the four segments would center around this idea of ‘wonders or blunders’.
Segment 1 : Made For Each Other by R. Balki
The second and the latest installment of Lust Stories, starts with an R Balki segment. In my heart I was very happy with R Bali being part of an anthology. I have always felt that his stories (Cheeni Kum, Shamitabh, Ki and Ka in particular) have interesting ideas. Those ideas are good to be explored in 30-40 minutes of screen time but, in a film, those are stretched out to a duration of two hours or so. Universe (Lust Story Universe) answered my prayers and some geniuscame up with an idea to have Bali direct a short film of 20-25 minutes. However, there is a twist in the tale.
Balki, indeed, had other ideas. Thus, he goes back to the drawing room, calculates idea vs screen time ratio and comes up with an idea that can be told in 5-7 minutes of screen time. He makes sure that his films should not suffer an inferiority complex with his short film. Irrespective of format of storytelling, his idea vs screen time ratio should win. While,Balki and his ratio wins, Lust Stories 2 loses.
Moreover, it is not about duration only. If there were one segment in this universe (including the first season) that didn’t belong to it, Balki’s segment would be an odd one out on any given day. In the rest of the three stories (as good or bad they may be), lust is at the core of either wonders or blunders. However, this segment is not only plain and thin but also at the loss to get the theme right.
The plot (if we can call it one), is about a pooja-pathwali-dadisuggesting a new age couple (about to get married) to have sex before marriage to asses physical compatibility. As usual, to Balki’s credit, the idea is there to put as much emphasis on sex life as much on emotional compatibility. This leads to some mild laughs as well when gyani-dhyani-dadi coins terms like ‘Fuji foota’ etc. This frivolous touch works to a minor extent but nothing else does, including performances.
Mrunal Thakur smiles, giggles, like a teenager, on her grandmother’s sex pep talks. Angad Bedi runs from one hotel room to another hotel room. Neena Gupta delivers speech nuggets on sex and its benefits. There is no relationship at work except this grandmother-granddaughter equation. However, this relationship also comes across as silly and childish despite visible attempts of making it cool.
The biggest crime this segment commits is it misunderstands sex and lust as one. This is a cardinal sin in this world. This is like outraging the modesty of lust. The other modesty it outrages is the modesty of acting chops of all actors involved. In the end only idea survives which may be the reason of Ishita’s (Tillotama Shome) migraine in the next segment.
Segment 2: The Mirror by Konkana Sen
The one thing the second season of Lust Stories does well is it puts stamp to a director’s sensibilities that we have speculated over a period. While the first segment is an off in every possible aspect, it remains true to the idea vs screen time ratio for a Balki film. Likewise, the glimpses and promise of a director Konkana Sen, that we got in “A death in the gunj”, are visible in the second segment of the anthology as well. Out of all the four stories, this one is the best executed (though I think thematically another segment does more justice, but thematically only). Nonetheless, that wonders or blunders part is served very well here as well.
We meet Ishita (Tillotama Shome) when she is having a migraine attack. She opens the door of his flat, watches her maid Seema (Amruta Subhas) having sex with her husband and the hankering in Ishita trumps the migraine. For the next two months or so, till the time she can please herself while watching the couple making out, the migraine never strikes again.
If by keeping lust at the core other tangential themes can be commented upon, this segment is a winner all the way. The sense, of someone else watching her doing it, turns Seema on but the same sense is a violation of privacy for Ishita’s ex flat mate Sameera. Sameera wants to confirm that Ishi never saw Sameera and her boyfriend while they were having sex. Pleasure of one couple (coming from a certain social background) is suspicion of another (coming from some other social background). Very nice, subtle and footnote size commentary it is and the good part is it is content being a footnote. The main theme always remains voyeuristic pleasure.
The segment questions “Is it possible to get pleasure in sex in any other way once you have experienced the pinnacle of sexual ecstasy in a particular way? even if this particular way involves a third person?”. The most appreciable aspect about the segment is, it unequivocally answers the question that it raises and answers both sympathetically and lustily and a tad bit socio politically as well. While coming at the answer the story touches upon themes like class divide, loneliness and double standards, all without losing focus from the first word of both the segment title and anthology title. The mirror doesn’t differentiate and reflects both pleasure and pain of all- be it a housemaid or a superrich business woman.
Segment 3: Sex With Ex by Sujoy Ghosh
While R Balki’s segment never belongs to the universe, Sujoy Ghosh’s segment belong to it in spirit only. In its body, it is more of an Ahalya kind of thriller (though not with the same impact).
First things first and let me get away with the wonders or blunders evaluation process for the segment. In this segment ‘lust’ is the root cause of blunders. The first blunder is done by a body and the second one by a spirit (literally spirit).
Vijay Chauhan (Vijay Varma) is driving a car. He is on a video call with a woman. The woman has already taken off her t-shirt (or top). She is about to remove her bra and Vijay is distracted. Vijay loses his control over the car and hits a tree. The blunder by a body is done.
Vijay survives in the accident but his car has broken down. While a mechanic is up to repair his car, he comes across a woman named Shati (Tamanna Bhatia). Shati is Vijay’s former wife who disappeared some ten years ago. Vijay gets attracted to her beauty again. Shanti doesn’t want to rekindle old flames. She suggests Vijay to leave lest he should be late for his important meeting. Vijay doesn’t listen. He is having an irresistible sexual urge. A steamy sex session happens. A twist is revealed and boom! This time a blunder is committed by a spirit. Eventually, Vijay’s spirit is late in its meeting with Vijay’s body.
All sound so interesting on paper but here the urgency that we witnessed in Ahalya is missing. As a result, the segment neither works as a thriller nor as a pulpy pleasure that was promised by the first few frames of the segment. Nonetheless, it is not an unwatchable outing either. It is just that a terrific premise of erotic horror thriller delivers partly in each department but not fully in any one of them.
Segment 4: Tilchatta by Amit Ravindernath Sharma
The segment that embodies the spirit of ‘lust’ in its truest sense, is the fourth and the last one. The story is about a royal oppressor Suraj Singh (Kumud Mishra) who is still lost in past glory of his ancestors. He has married a prostitute Chanda (Kajol) and with her he has a son Yuvraj. However, this biological son of his is his son in the spirit as well?
When Suraj Singh proudly proclaims “Collector ki maa kisijamane me hamareyahangobaruthatithi”, Yuvraj scorns. When Yuvraj witnesses his father forcing himself on their house help, he feels disgusted. While the father believes royals don’t work under anybody, his son is ready to go to England for better opportunities. Thus, Yuvraj is Chanda’s son not Suraj Singh’s son. He is an oppressed’s son and not an oppressor’s son.
This father vs son contrast is best highlighted in a minor scene in which Yuvraj’s friend offers him a bidi to smoke but Yuvraj throws the bidi in water. This clearly conveys that while he has genes from both father and mother, the cultured and oppressed genes of the mother (who is not from a cultured background) suppress the oppressing genes of the father.
Bang. A twist is there here as well. However, the twist is as much about narrative as much it is about character arc. Watching a very seductive young girl (about to expose herself to Suraj Singh), the oppressing genes (suppressed till now) emerge to trump all the mother’s genes when it mattered the most.
What we witness is, literally, a fall of a character. Moreover, this fall is triggered by ‘lust’. Yuvraj being drunk before this act has also been hinted upon. This completes the arc of his character. He would not smoke a puff from a bidi in his sane avatar, nonetheless, overpowered by lust, he drinks and has sex with a house help- an act for which he, once, disgusted his father.
Ironically, this segment not only completes the character arc of Yuvraj but also completes relevance arc of the anthology. Or how else you would like to put it for an anthology that starts with a segment which completely out of sync and ends up with one that is, thematically, the most relevant to the Lust Universe.